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Release Date: 9/26/2003
Contact Information: David Sternberg, 215-814-5548

David Sternberg, 215-814-5548

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of the Interior today announced that they have entered into a consent decree with Viacom International Inc., TCI Pacific Communications, Inc., Horsehead Industries, Inc., and Horsehead Resource Development Company, Inc. in connection with the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund site, located in Palmerton, Pennsylvania.

Under the proposed settlement, the parties will pay approximately $12.85 million into the Superfund account, to reimburse monies spent by EPA, and will perform cleanup work at the site valued at $27 million. The parties have also agreed to reimburse past and future costs incurred by the Department of Interior at the site in the amount of $700,000.

“This settlement demonstrates our continuing commitment to ensure that those responsible for contaminating our environment share in the costs of the cleanup. This is a substantial step toward cleaning up this site for the residents of Palmerton,” said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“This negotiated cleanup is good news for the public, the parties, and the environment. We can now concentrate on the cleanup, rather than the courtroom,” said EPA Regional Administrator Donald S. Welsh.

The $12.85 million cash payment will reimburse EPA for a significant portion of the costs EPA incurred investigating and cleaning up contamination at the site, including residential areas of Palmerton. The parties have also agreed to perform a substantial portion of the cleanup work that remains, including further testing and cleanup of homes and yards in Palmerton and adjacent communities and revegetating areas of Blue Mountain that were defoliated.

The Palmerton site became contaminated with several hazardous substances over more than a century of zinc smelting and refining. The corporate predecessors of Viacom and TCI Pacific operated a primary zinc smelter and related operations at two plants in the Palmerton area from 1898 through approximately 1980. Horsehead Industries and Horsehead Resource Development Company have operated a zinc recycling operation at one of the two plants since 1981.

Air emissions from the various operations deposited lead and other contamination in some parts of Palmerton and adjacent communities and caused the defoliation of Blue Mountain in the vicinity of the plants. In addition, more than 30 million tons of byproducts generated primarily from smelting operations were deposited in a 2.5 mile-long, 100 foot-high Cinder Bank adjacent to the plants.

In 1983, EPA listed the Palmerton Zinc Pile on the Superfund list of the nation’s most contaminated sites. In the mid-1990s, EPA completed the priority cleanup of more than 200 residences in and around Palmerton to address potential lead contamination. In addition, pursuant to prior settlements in 1988 and 1995, respectively, Horsehead Industries has revegetated approximately 1,000 acres on Blue Mountain and implemented pollution reduction technologies designed to control potential water contamination associated with the Cinder Bank.

EPA continues to investigate and develop a cleanup plan for certain other portions of the site, including potentially contaminated surface and ground water. The settlement does not affect those ongoing activities. Additional information on the Palmerton Zinc Superfund site is available at:

Notice of the lodging of the proposed consent decree will be published in the Federal Register, and there will be a 30-day public comment period. Because Horsehead Industries and HRDC are in bankruptcy, the proposed consent decree is also subject to the approval of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.